She jumped to the side but wasn’t fast enough. The roots smacked into her, the speed ripping into her skin and flesh. She stumbled backward into another tree, writhing. Her eyes widened, and I recognized the glaze. There was pain, but behind it was something far more potent.
Smiling, I pushed up and rose to my feet. She slipped around the tree, and then she was running once more. I started after her, slow at first and then picking up my pace.
The trees were a blur as she cut between them, darting in and out of streams of lights breaking through the heavy branches, and then we exploded out from them, cutting through the tall reeds of an open field. Houses loomed up ahead, rows and rows of identical flat, one-story homes.
She cut to the left, heading straight for the first house. The front door swung open, ripping off its hinges as she raced up the cracked driveway. She entered the house, and I slowed, my gaze flickering over it. Boarded-up windows. Tears in the roof. My senses crept out from me as I stalked across the porch. The house was empty except for her, and the air was dusty, stale. I walked through a barren, dark room.
Shouts came from the outside, but they meant nothing to me as I tracked the Trojan through the house, to the kitchen stripped of appliances and counters.
I inhaled deeply, taking in the scent of dirt and blood. I wondered if she would run again. The corners of my lips curved up. I hoped so. My body thrummed with the possibility. It would be far too easy. She was wounded, but wounded prey was still fun.
I prowled forward.
Breathing heavily, the Trojan backed up as she wiped the blackish-blue blood from below her mouth. She didn’t engage, though there was opportunity and weapons. Floorboards she could rip up. A ceiling she could bring down on me. Discarded tools that could cut and maybe even kill.
She used none of that, still moving away from me, her chest rising and falling.
I halted in the center, studying her. Why?
She seemed to understand what I was asking. “I don’t know how.”
My lip curled.
“They haven’t trained me.” She wiped at the blood again. “Taught me just the basics. I’m supposed to…”
Sssupposssed to what?
“Find you.” She lowered her hand. “See if the Cassio Wave works this time. If it did, I was to bring you back with me.”
And if not?
Her breathing slowed. “Then I had failed. You know what that means.”
I wasn’t sure. My brain was a chasm of memories and thoughts, needs and desires. I slipped past them, past the glimpses of laughter and eyes the color of amethyst jewels, shoving aside grief-soaked images to the one where he stood behind me, his hands on my shoulders.
I knew that man.
And I also knew I did not like when he stood behind me. Only a fool would take their eyes off him. He could move as fast as any of us, even faster.
“Failure,” he said into my ear. “Failure is the option of those who court death. I do not, will not tolerate it. Look. Open your eyes and look to see what failure is.”
I opened my eyes, and before me was what remained of another like me, clothing and skin soaked with blood, the white floor stained with a river of crimson that seeped to the center, to a rust-colored drain. The blood slowed there, forming a grotesque and shocking pool of wasted life and infinite, soulless ambition.
Hatred filled my chest, and with the Source, it found a home. I curled my hands into fists. My gaze met hers. She stared at me in silence, eyes black except for white pupils. She did nothing, said not a word from there.
The Source spilled out from me, rippling in shadows of dusk over my body. The taste of burned ozone coated the insides of my mouth. My skin crackled as the Source pulled and pulled. Wind roared through the room, whipping my hair across my cheeks as it lifted anything not bolted down. Hammers. Broken chairs. Dirt-covered tables. Empty bottles. Trash. All of it became weightless.
I became weightless as all that power saturated the air around me, turning the room to shades of dusk and dawn. Glass cracked and shattered. A great wrenching shook the house as the roof peeled back like a page turning in an ancient book, revealing dark storm clouds.
“Evie!” someone shouted, voice close by.
Sarah stepped forward, whitish-black light erupting from her palm—
The whirling cyclone of energy, a combustive mix of power and hatred, rose inside me, and it found a target. I let the Source build until it burned my skin and crowded my insides, leaving almost no room to breathe, for my heart to beat, and then, when I could no longer hold it in, I let it go.